by Kaitlan Downes, MSAOM
Ahhh, Spring! We all love to welcome its return after a long and dreary winter. The sun shines upon us, we have more energy, the temperature warms up, and new growth reminds us that there is always time for a fresh start. New beginnings and brighter days are ahead.
And then…the seasonal woes ramp up. Allergies, hay fever, cold, and flus wreck havoc on many of us during this time. The fresh excitement of spring is often clouded by a Sudafed-induced haze, mountains of tissues, and miserable nights. Many of us miss work or school during this time due to the increase in seasonal troubles and those of us with children are well-aware of the struggles that a poor immune system and dirty hands can cause.
As with many things, Chinese medicine is to the rescue. Building a strong immune system and defense against these seasonal ills is one of Chinese herbal medicine’s most intriguing qualities. Spring has so much to offer us, there’s no reason to miss out due to watery eyes or searing sore throat. Here’s what Chinese medicine has to say about spring and how we can rise to the occasion.
Spring in Chinese Medicine
Chinese medicine takes a good look at how our bodies connect with and react to the change of seasons. In ancient times, the body was best understood in terms of the natural environment; without the technology we have today that helps us to learn about physiology and disease, our ancestors had to use patterns and correlations to form their medical framework.
As the natural environment changes, our bodies follow suit. Similarly, as the natural environment goes through periods of imbalance (drought, floods, etc…) so can we. The ancient Chinese doctors used this information to create a set of guidelines for how to embrace the seasons and stay healthy.
In spring, the earth begins to warm and thaw and new growth sprouts. There is more daylight and everything starts to come back to life. The energy picks up; no more sleepy hibernation, it’s time to get out and take action. The same occurs in our bodies. We begin to reawaken and are primed to take more action ourselves: we increase our exercise, sleep less, and do more. With the increase in movement and energy in springtime, we can also notice an increase in aches and pains, anxiety, or breathing issues like asthma.
Spring can bring a host of health issues along with it. For one, there are more “exogenous” factors around to cause us harm. These are external triggers like pollen, dust, winds, rain, and other environmental factors. The change in temperatures can cause a weakness in our personal barriers, allowing for cold, wind, and dampness to enter the body and wreck havoc on our immune systems.
The change of seasons is inevitable – and necessary. The cycle of life is always moving. But during these transitions, we are more vulnerable than usual and can easily fall victim to illness. This is why at the change of seasons, we often see increases in bouts of colds, allergies, stress, and sleeping issues. The solution? Protect and prevent.
Symptoms of a Weak Immune System
Your immune system is your defense against illness – large and small. If you’ve ever suffered from hay fever or regular allergies, you likely know how even just a little siege can cause big trouble in your daily quality of life.
Chinese medicine views the immune system as both an outer and inner defense network. The outer network helps to protect us from the external factors – like wind, cold, dampness, heat, germs, and others – while the inner focuses on keeping the strength of the entire body strong from the root.
With a weak immune system, you will notice that you tend to get sick during the change of seasons, mostly winter to spring and summer to fall. You may feel a little under the weather multiple times per year. You may get a cough that you just can’t shake or feel that you constantly sniffle or have chronic allergies.
In a more general sense, a weak immune system often shows up as fatigue, lethargy, digestive irregularity, and general malaise. These are signs of weak “qi”- the active, energetic force in the body that powers us. When our qi is weak, our defense system will suffer and we become more susceptible to illness.
Best Chinese Medicine’s Favorite Picks for a Healthy Spring
Best Chinese Medicine carries a variety of herbal supplements that can help you stay on top of your health during the windy spring season. Learn more about some of our favorite herbal helpers to find out which ones will best help you stay healthy and strong through the change of season.
Jade Wind-Screen/Yu Ping Feng San: The Protector
This is a classic, favorite formula to help combat the environmental factors at play in spring, but can be used at other times of year as an immune booster.
Jade Wind Screen acts just like it’s name: it works to help you create a tough outer layer that keeps you protected. It is the perfect choice if you suffer from frequent colds throughout the year or have a strong aversion to cold and wind (it will help to strengthen your outer defense layer and reduce your sensitivity).
How to use: This is a gentle, yet powerful building formula. It works best over time to create a strong outer protective shell. Jade Windscreen can be taken regularly for several months to build up your defenses, but you can start this process any time. If you are coming up on spring (or any other vulnerable time of year) start taking Jade Windscreen daily to prevent those typical colds.
Bi Yan Pian: Clear and Free
If most of your seasonal difficulties revolve around the sinuses, Bi Yan Pian might become your new best friend. This formula is designed to keep the sinuses and nose clear, discharging any excess fluid and mucus so that you can breathe freely.
Bi Yan Pian is helpful for sneezing, allergies, colds, hay fever, sinus infections, rhinitis, and itchy eyes.
How to use: Use Bi Yan Pian as you would an over-the-counter decongestant. If nasal congestion is your main concern, use alone. If you are suffering from a full-on cold or allergies with excessive congestion, use this in addition to a base formula that treats the cold.
Jiao Gu Lan: Wellness Warrior
Jiao Gu Lan is an excellent choice for generally weakened immune systems. The main herb in this product, gymnostemma, helps to prevent environmental stressors and strengthen the immune system.
This herb has quite a few other benefits too…its antioxidant properties also allow it to help prevent premature aging, memory loss, improves detoxification, and can help with hangovers! In some regions, it is even considered a longevity tonic.
How to use: Take Jiao Gu Lan daily like a preventative vitamin to help your body stand up to seasonal changes and the yearly colds.
Shen Qi Da Bu Wan: Abundant Qi
Just like it’s Chinese name suggests, Shen Qi Da Bu Wan helps to boost qi: your body’s energy source. During times of seasonal change, high stress, or anytime you are feeling run-down, it can be a good idea to boost your qi and protect your immune system – even before you get sick.
Those who will benefit most from this formula likely have an underlying “qi deficiency” meaning that your energy resources are low (the human version of low power mode). This leads to consistent feelings of fatigue, burn-out, heaviness, and weakness. If you tend to get sick when you over-do things, this might be a match for you.
How to use: You can begin taking Shen Qi Da Bu Wan at any time. Pair with more symptomatic formulas (like Bi Yan Pian or Yin Chiao Chieh Tu Pien) if you are currently sick.
Yin Chiao Chieh Tu Pien: The Soother
Yin Chiao Chieh Tu Pien is a widely-used herbal formula that is great for sore throats and what we call “wind-heat” in Chinese medicine. Unlike a “wind-cold” presentation that shows up with chills, aches, and a craving for warmth, a wind-heat situation will leave you feeling hot, thirsty, irritable, dry, and you will most likely have a sore throat.
This formula is great to have on hand for those early sore throats that pop up right as a cold sets in. They are a favorite in Chinese medicine first-aid/home medicine kits because they can often stop a sore throat in its tracks.
How to use: Take a dose of Yin Chiao as soon as possible after the first signs of a sore throat or irritable, hot-type cold.
Prevention and Preparation
Chinese medicine shines when it comes to boosting the immune system and preventing illness. It’s never too late (or too early) to start strengthening up your defenses and preparing for the season ahead. If you are someone who suffers year after year with one or multiple bouts of colds or flus, don’t head down that same path this year. Strengthen and defend so you can continue to be your best self, all season long.